Personalities | Prince | Eighties | Rock

The most innovative, mercurial and controversial black rock star since Jimi Hendrix, Prince is also one of the most mysterious. He was born Prince Rogers Nelson, 7 June 1958.

His father was the leader of a local jazz band, his mother was a singer. He formed his first band at 14 and signed a self-production deal with Warner Brothers in 1977.

Controversial Star

His debut, For You (1978), was almost entirely self-written and self-played, a formative blend of R&B, rock and pop with titles like ‘Soft And Wet’ creating an early notoriety. Prince (1979) peaked just outside the US Top 20 with the R&B hits ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad’ extending his range. Another track, ‘I Feel For You’, would later be a major hit for Chaka Khan.

Prince toured America, supporting and outshining Rick James. Dirty Mind (1980) was loosely conceptual with provocative songs like ‘Head’ and ‘Sister’ but was less successful. Controversy (1981) refined his adult-oriented funk and revived his fortunes, again narrowly missing the US Top 20. His breakthrough came with the harder-rocking double album 1999 (1982), which hit the US Top 10 six months after its release on the back of three Top 10 singles: ‘Little Red Corvette’, ‘Delirious’ and the title track.

Purple Rain (1984) vaulted Prince to superstardom, topping the US charts for 24 weeks. The soundtrack to an autobiographical movie, it featured two US No. 1 hits – ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. The album also made the UK Top 10.

Soundtrack Of The Times

Eschewing media interviews and promotion, Prince’s image rested on his albums, videos and dynamic live shows. He was prolific too. In 1985, he won two Grammies and an Oscar, wrote Sheena Easton’s US Top 10 hit ‘Sugar Walls’ and donated ‘4 The Tears In Your Eyes’ to the USA For Africa benefit album. He also released the spiritually inclined Around The World In A Day (1985), which topped the US charts for three weeks (along with the No. 2 single ‘Raspberry Beret’) and made the UK Top 5.

Parade (1986), his eighth album in as many years, went Top 5 in the US and UK and featured songs from his second movie, Under The Cherry Moon, including the US No. 1 (and UK No. 4) ‘Kiss’. The critically acclaimed double album Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987) was similarly successful and Lovesexy (1988) was the first of three consecutive UK No. 1 albums, although it only reached No. 11 in the US.

Batman (1989), the soundtrack to the year’s movie blockbuster, was a US and UK No. 1 with ‘Batdance’ also topping the US charts (UK No. 2). Graffiti Bridge (1990) was another soundtrack, this time to Prince’s sequel to Purple Rain. It was a US Top 10, along with the single ‘Thieves In The Temple’. But a version of the Prince-penned ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ by Sinéad O’Connor topped the...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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